My husband has a hard time thinking about acts of violence. He is very good at compartmentalizing. He takes every horrible thing he hears or sees and without looking it in the face, he wraps it up in a little box marked “DO NOT OPEN” and files it in the darkest recesses of his heart under “Ugly Stuff.” Sometimes I wonder if he’s not doing himself a disservice by refusing to look. What lesson is he missing by ignoring the hurt? What lesson would he learn by letting it in and looking right at it? Maybe none. Maybe he is just doing what he can to get by in a painful world. Sometimes I wish I was more like him.
I asked him yesterday, after the most recent mass shooting, if he ever took the time to process the human tragedy and loss we see every day. He said no, he couldn’t. It would make him feel crazy, he said. Crazy helpless. His aloofness is not borne of apathy or a desire to pretend bad things don’t happen. He feels. He is a kind, generous human being that feels every painful moment at a deep, visceral level. His compassion for other living beings is not a weakness, though sometimes he may believe otherwise. His strength is in his vulnerability. When he says he cannot bear to think about the ugliness, he is admitting he has a heart and it hurts. I wish more of us could say this and be okay with our own imperfect humanity.
What do we do instead? When something awful happens, especially gun-related, we wrap ourselves up in our own fears like a security blanket and we scream at each other. We point fingers and call names and make demands. We push each other further and further away from our heart centers. We humans deny ourselves the one true thing that will sustain us: love. The victims aren’t helped by our hatred and fear. The shooters aren’t relieved of their great suffering. A suffering so intense, made to feel so real and vivid, that they cannot outrun it. It is easier to believe the suffering that we identify with than to accept we deserve to be free of suffering. That is the most painful thing of all. We truly believe we’ve done something to deserve the violence. We believe being something so horrible and gross as a human is all the sin we need commit. That is a painful thought.
I have an uncommon superpower of seeing suffering. I see my own and I see others. I see it in mug shots of violent offenders and I see it in faces of angry strangers in traffic. I know when I am acting out and speaking harshly to others whom I think “just don’t get it” that I am suffering. It’s not always easy to stop in the moment. I do believe guns have one purpose and that purpose is putting holes in things. They are destructive and they represent only violence to me. I want to see them all destroyed most days. So my fears of violence often go unchecked during tragic episodes like a mass shooting. The truest part of me, the part not controlled by fear, believes in free will and choice. To me, free choice means not being controlled by others. It means letting others decide how they want to live; personal and bodily autonomy. This is the part of me I have to access and feel in order to get by in a painful world. I have to look the pain in the eye and open my arms to it so I can transform it to something more meaningful. That part of me knows that which is unknowable. It is peace and it is love and it is timeless. I want to say “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry for the hurt we have endured and I’m sorry for the hurt we will endure. I’m sorry we have a hard time getting along, what with all of our humanoid baggage and fear weighing us down. In the end all we have is each other: not our guns, not our laws restricting guns, just plain-Jane, pure-bred, unabashed human love. It really is all we need. It really is enough.